DIRECTOR Lucian Pintilie's inspired and indelible staging of "The Wild Duck" shines a light deep into Ibsen's masterwork, revealing usually hidden depths. Brilliantly realized by Pintilie, his designers, and the actors at Arena Stage, this production is deeply idiosyncratic and perhaps even definitive.
Ibsen's play is the tragic comedy of helpless Hialmar Ekdal, a naive photographer who fancies himself an inventor. Though poor, Ekdal enjoys a warm, even ideal, home life, and his nurturing wife Gina allows him the illusion that he provides for the family. Then Ekdal learns his wife has retouched history in order to spare him: His beloved daughter Hedwig, who is losing her sight, is not his own -- she was sired by wealthy Haakon Werle when Gina worked for him.
It is Werle's meddlesome son Gregers who takes it upon himself to enlighten Ekdal in the name of his spurious ideal of truth, and is baffled when Ekdal's life is ruined by the revelation. Sometimes it's better not to see the light: As Ekdal's neighbor Dr. Relling says, "Deprive an ordinary man of his vital lie, you deprive him of his happiness."
Ibsen's play has all the elements of a highbrow soap opera, but it is much more, suffused as it is with compassion and symbolism. Pintilie's geometric placement of the actors underlines relationships between the characters, and the performances are excellent, particularly Richard Bauer as Ekdal, Tana Hicken as Gina, and Stanley Anderson as Dr. Relling.
Arena has torn down the Kreeger Theater's rear stage wall to encompass Radu Boruzescu's meticulously detailed set. As the play opens on a candlelit soiree at Werle's sumptuous house, the scene is played before and behind a wall of smoked mirrors, creating a hallucinatory, almost cinematic image. Then the wine-red drapes drop away, the wall dissolves, and we are in Ekdal's shabby industrial attic studio.
"The Wild Duck" is about perception and blindness, and as Ekdal says, "the light is important." Beverly Emmons combines candle and firelight with naturalistic white light, and places at the center of the production an ingenious revolving klieg light that illuminates both Pintilie's vision and Ibsen's drama.
THE WILD DUCK -- At Arena Stage's Kreeger Theater through March.